RICHMOND

I have never been comfortable talking on the telephone, with family or friends or just a guy who wants to power wash my house for a fee. Or desperately needs a political or charitable contribution. Or would like me to buy a stock. Or just wants to play catch-up. You are dealing with a voice, one you might like to be sitting right square in front of you at that exact moment or one you wish would just dry up and float away in a desert breeze.

I thought emails would be different, but that is not how it happens with me. I blaze away on the keys to exchange needful information or catch up to current events and then find that every other key I hit is a typo and more time needs to be taken fixing mistakes than the whole effort was worth in the first place.

All this is strange because I used to enjoy writing letters to people and getting them in return. Right now in my desk I have bundles of letters saved, some from famous people, some from old friends, some from people I never got to meet but who wanted to establish an impersonal relationship with me and I responded personally. Some letters are filled with hate because of differing personal or political standards.

I take out a packet of letters every once in a while knowing exactly what I am getting because I have read them so many times before but knowing that I will become as happy or emotionally moved as I was the first time I unveiled them. It's not the same with emails. They look drab with all the Internet symbols crowding them and they all look alike no matter what the subject is.

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Being a simple person with nothing damaging in my life, my phone calls, emails and letters are important only to me. I didn't pay much attention when word got out that the government was scanning everybody's phone calls and e-mails and storing them in vast data banks where they are festering until a geek comes up with some way to make them whatever the government needs them to be at the moment. Supposedly it can be ascertained if some of the calls or emails can warn us of plots against our government, who is responsible and how they may be blocked.

"Balderdash," scream cooler heads in relation to what these data banks might achieve and what they might be costing our nation in cold, hard cash. A few of the system's proponents have muttered that they have saved our nation from Islamic attacks, but nobody has been able to show anything real about any saved data that protected us from real threats.

Right now nobody knows how much all this posturing is costing our nation in cold hard cash, or what plans have been devolved to make sense of this super-blivot of non-crucial information.

President Barack Obama sometimes tries your patience as well as your information, and this is one of his big ones.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.